Don’t fear the Siem Reapers: Son Sabor Latin Trio

From this Saturday until the following Saturday, Phnom Penh streets and dance floors will be vibrating to the sounds of the Son Sabor Latin Trio, with seven gigs strung across seven venues.  Leng Pleng overcame technological challenges to chat with the band from their base in Siem Reap to find out what Phnom Penh should expect.

Like many a band in Cambodia, Son Sabor came together out of accidental meetings and a desire to play.  Andy Luna (guitar and vocals), from Medellin, Colombia, has been in Asia for some years, most recently over four years in China, but like many of us his travelling was brought to a halt.  “I got stuck here in Cambodia in December 2019, with the COVID situation,” says Andy.  “I met Chema last year, he had just arrived in Siem Reap.  As soon as we met we decided it would be really cool to have a Latin band, because there is not much live Latin music, at least here in Siem Reap.”

Chema Rodriguez (drums and percussion), originally from Mexico City, came to a similar stop.  “I was travelling around the world with my girlfriend,” Chema explains, “And always doing music wherever I went.  Then I got stuck here, and I’ve just tried to make the best out of it.  Luckily I met these amazing musicians.”

Rounding out the trio is bass player Andrey Meshcheryakov, the St Petersburg native well known to Phnom Penh audiences for playing everything from Russian folk tunes with Maki Orkestr to rockabilly with an earlier iteration of Joe & the Jumping Jacks to jazz with a variety of combos.

Photo: Paul Mackie

Latin music, they explain, covers a much wider range than is generally thought.  “Basically Latin music is whatever comes from Latin America,” says Andy.  “There are the well known styles like salsa, merengue, bachata, and the new ones like reggaetón, that’s the music everybody knows.  But there’s also Latin rock, flamenco, bossa nova, and those are also considered Latin music.  We try to mix it up a little.  Not only the traditional Latin music that everybody knows and loves, but also new things that people can appreciate and enjoy.”

Whatever the style, Son Sabor put their own spin on it.  “Every time we meet we decide which songs we’re going to prepare, which songs we can play right,” says Chema.  “With a lot of them the recording we know might have horns or a lot of percussion or a lot of voices, so we have to be very specific in what kind of music we can do as a trio.  But we try to make our own versions of the songs, we don’t play it straight how it is, and we make it as groovy as possible.”  Andy adds: “There are also some original songs already in the works.  Not for this Phnom Penh tour, but for the future for sure.”

Being a trio has its benefits and challenges.  “Latin music generally is full of voicings,” says Andy.  “We try to fill out the sound as much as we can.  It’s a trio, but it’s not the traditional trio we are used to back in Latin America, which is two guitars, two voices and one percussionist.  We have a different set up – drum set, bass, and I play an acoustic guitar, nylon strings – we try to be as Cuban or as rock or as funk as we can.”

Photo: Paul Mackie

“I love this band,” says Chema.  “I love the music we’re doing, and I love the response we’re getting from people; we are bringing joy.  We have already a fan base in Siem Reap.  They are as excited as we are to be discovering new venues and new people.”

Alongside the Valentines Day appearances, Phnom Penh should expect a high energy show.  “We have some soft repertoire,” says Andy.   “Just trying to get people into the Latin mood in a small way.  But we definitely have a lot of energy and power on stage.”  Chema adds: “We would like to see everyone come out, even if they think they don’t like Latin – come and enjoy.  We have a very wide repertoire, so give us a try, and we will make our best effort to let you have a lovely evening.”

The tour begins on Saturday at Duplex, followed by Valentines shows at Rukkha Sky Bar and EST Lounge, continuing with Bouchon on Wednesday and Trattoria Bello on Thursday, then Azure on Friday before one final concert at Botanico.  Happy dancing!

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